When Gretchen Valade and Kevin Steen first met in February 2011, she “thought it was love at first sight,” she says, recalling the “great eye contact” they initially shared at a party in Chicago. Alas, she’d failed to notice the TV set behind her—which is what Kevin, a filmmaker, had fixed his gaze upon. By the end of the night, though, he had noticed her, and they were soon dating (for a while it was long distance: he in New York City, she in Detroit). By 2016, the Michigan natives both landed in Detroit. There, in December 2016, he proposed at a friend’s gallery by installing pieces of art that commemorated their relationship, with the last piece reading “Will You Marry Me?” The grand gesture inspired the couple’s next move: a wedding at the Detroit Institute of Arts. “We loved the idea of getting engaged in a gallery and married in a museum,” says Gretchen, a retail merchandiser.
To avoid fighting against the museum's inherent beauty, the couple pulled design inspiration from the venue's artwork to coincide with their desired timeless and elegant vibe for their August 26, 2017 wedding. Their color palette came from the Diego Rivera Mural within the art institute, and they based their invitations off the museum's artist plaques. "We added where it was necessary, but we also left spaces alone, just adding greens and candles," says the bride. "It was important for us that it felt intimate, even in such a large space." The ultimate goal was to give guests what felt like a private tour of the museum, which Gretchen and Kevin effortlessly pulled off as the wedding migrated throughout the locale, starting with the ceremony in the colorful Rivera Court and ending the night with dancing outside the building.
Even the couple's invitation suite was inspired by their venue. "We pulled colors from the Diego Rivera Mural and even the museum's artist plaques inspired our invitation design," says the bride.
When it came to her wedding dress, Gretchen wanted a look that felt understated and elegant. She turned to a high-neck, sleeveless silk sheath gown with a low V-shaped back. "My favorite element of this dress was that I felt comfortable and like I could move and be ‘me’ on my wedding day," she says of the ensemble, designed by Charlie Brear.
She accessorized with rose gold Stuart Weitzman heels, and diamond earrings and a bangle as "something borrowed" pieces from her mother. Gretchen's mom also gave her a handkerchief, which had been passed down from a family member, to keep in her purse. She chose a low, undone chignon to top off the timeless get-up.
The bride carried a simple green-and-white bouquet to match the rest of the day's floral palette.
Kevin donned a Burberry Modern Fit Tuxedo, which he purchased in New York City, and a custom Detroit pocket square by Paige Russell. The groom and his groomsmen also wore bowties from Taz the Tailor. (Even the drinking glasses were personalized to the city of Detroit!)
Growing up in Grosse Pointe, Gretchen often visited the nearby Detroit Institute of Arts. When she moved back to the city as an adult, she joined the museum’s junior board “as a way of engaging with the city and meeting new people.”
All of Gretchen's 10 bridesmaids date back to her childhood, some even from her pre-kindergarten days. She had them choose their own dresses to ensure they all felt comfortable and unique. Her only requirements were to stay within a blue, grey, and silver color scheme and to pick a sheath silhouette that mirrored her own wedding gown.
Kevin chose his brother as his best man, and the rest of the groomsmen were a mix of new and old friends from Detroit, Chicago, and New York.
The bride's niece and flower girl, Daphne, wore an Isabel Garretón dress. Coincidentally, the fabric perfectly matched the stuffed bunnies—one blue, one white—she carried all day.
"We incorporated family members in other ways than being in the bridal party," says Gretchen. "Kevin’s sister-in-law did a reading, as did my cousin. My sister-in-law walked our flower girl and ring bearer down the aisle. My two brothers walked my mom down the aisle."
The couple invited 250 people, gathered in front of Diego Rivera's massive Detroit Industry murals to witness their ceremony in the round. Greenery and candles adorned the already stunning space.
The bride's father walked her down the aisle, and the couple's close friend officiated the ceremony.
"It felt so special being surrounded by our friends," says Gretchen, who loved their wedding planner's idea of a circular ceremony structure. She and Kevin stood on a raised platform in the middle of their loved ones.
When the time came to exchange vows, their officiant stepped back to allow the couple to whisper them in private. "The silent vows were our way of keeping a part of the ceremony just for ourselves," she says. "No one was expecting it, and my dad even thought something had gone wrong with the sound!"
But their vows were indeed official, and everyone was soon moving through galleries and into the Great Hall for dinner.
But first: The newlyweds slipped outside for an epic portrait in front of the museum's historic facade.
Guests migrated to Kresge Court for cocktail hour, where they munched on tuna tartare with avocado and compressed watermelon. The couple curated a playlist of some of their favorite tunes, including the Destroyer album they listened to on their first date.
Before dinner, guests found their table assignments on calligraphed cards (attached to etched brass numbers!) adorned to a wall of boxwood.
The couple took a minute to tour the space (and take in their handiwork!) before everyone joined them inside.
In the Great Hall, plants hung above tables to create an intimate atmosphere inside the immense Beaux-Arts building. "It felt like we were in a secret garden," the bride says.
The couple relied on greens and soft florals, combined with mixed materials and fabrics to exude an elegant, minimalist aesthetic for the reception. "We wanted to bring some of our style from our own home to this portion of the night, with a soft and modern inspiration," says Gretchen.
Gretchen and Kevin used two different styles of tables—bare wooden farm tables and square versions adorned with grey tablecloths and a soft white table runner. Candles and low flowers made up the tablescape, along with contemporary dinnerware. Strips of leather were attached to the rich blue napkins to denote each guest's seat.
"It felt like an intimate setting with all of our favorite people," Gretchen says of the three-course dinner. The couple served caprese salad, sea bass with black lentil ragu, and prime filet fiorentina.
The couple's three-tiered marble cake was topped with flowers, fresh berries, and vanilla icing.
The night ended with a surprise planned by Gretchen's parents. "My dad selected 'Dancing in the Street' for our father-daughter dance, which seemed like an odd song choice," she says. But it all made sense when the band started playing the tune and the couple's officiant invited everyone to dance outside the museum. Kevin's grandmother, Betty, was front-and-center. "She loves to dance, and she was on the dance floor all night," says Gretchen. "The people making the tunnel are her children, grandchildren, and family friends—and I believe that is Kevin pushing her through!"
One of Gretchen's bridesmaids sang a rendition of "Nothing Can Change This Love" by Sam Cooke for the couple's first dance. And at 1:30 a.m., the wedding party even broke into a boys vs. girls dance-off. "It was really cool, and fun, and special," says Gretchen. "We had a blast!"
Venue: Detroit Institute of Art || Wedding Planner: Mood Events || Brides's Dress: Charlie Brear || Bride's Shoes: Stuart Weitzman || Hair: Zealous Root Salon || Makeup: Brides on Location Detroit || Groom's Attire: Burberry || Floral Design: Parsanage Flowers || Cake Design: Morning Glory || Ceremony Music: Gene Dunlap Band || Reception Music: Jans Ingber’s Funk Fellowship || Photography: Sarah Falugo Weddings